The Honda Valkyrie has always held a special place in my heart. First, the Valkyrie was initially released in 1996, the year I started scribbling about motorcycles for a living. Second, the cruiser magazine I worked for had a long-term Valkyrie for the better part of a year. I commuted on it, took canyon rides, toured, did pretty much everything on that bike. I even took it from stock to a custom bike over that time. (After it was returned to Honda, I heard stories of it spending time on the Bonneville Salt Flats pursuing land speed records – purple anodized fork and all.)
I’ve ridden every model Valkyrie produced – even taking a Valkyrie Interstate from Los Angeles to Alaska. Finally, I had the twisted pleasure of spending a few days on a twin supercharged custom Valkyrie (one for each bank of cylinders) that was the single loudest motorcycle I’ve ever thrown a leg over (thanks to six straight pipes and the Magnacharger roots-type superchargers that attempted to suck anything in their vicinity into their hungry mouths). You could say that I’m a fan of the Valkyrie.
So, when the Valkyrie was dropped from Honda’s lineup in 2004, I held a personal moment of silence for the bike that was arguably responsible for the coining of the term “power cruiser.” Ironically, in 2001, when the Gold Wing was updated with the twin-spar aluminum frame and increased displacement, the Valkyrie faithful felt it was only a matter of time before a new, improved Valkyrie would be terrorizing the roads of America again. And it was – 13 model years – before the Valkyrie returned. After spending a day with the new Valkyrie on some of Southern California’s finest roads, I can honestly say that, in my opinion, the Valkyrie is back and, in many ways, better than ever.
However, your opinion may differ. Here’s why.
FLASHBACK: 1997 Honda Valkyrie
The Challenge of Change
The Valkyrie has always been about its engine. With the original Valkyrie in 1996, the 1520cc Flat-Six was reworked to maximize its power output. Hotter cams were used to allow the engine to breathe better, and in a move that was as much about making a visual statement as it was about performance, the Gold Wing’s two 36mm carburetors were replaced with six 24mm carbs – two racks of three – hanging out in the air for all the world to see. The result was a claimed 100 hp and 100 ft.-lb. in a visually arresting, chrome-dipped package.
The 2014 Valkyrie takes the GL1800’s 1832cc liquid-cooled, horizontally-opposed six-cylinder with its 118 hp and 125 ft.-lb. of torque and serves it up unchanged. Before you begin to sputter in outrage at this heresy, remember that the engine already makes 18% more torque and 25% more horsepower than the Valkyrie of old, and bumping power output isn’t the only way to make a motorcycle feel more powerful than its predecessor.
Time moves on, and technology marches forward. The in-your-face six individual carburetors have been replaced with two 40mm throttle bodies tucked away under the tank. Rather than jets delivering the fuel, Honda’s Programmed Fuel Injection (PGM-FI) incorporates six high-pressure injectors to precisely meter the fuel mixture dictated by the ECU’s two digital 3-D fuel-injection maps which control the fuel delivery and spark advance to get the most go out of each explosion in the 74.0mm x 71.0mm cylinders. The closed-loop system monitors the engine’s exhaust gasses via two oxygen sensors to assure the cleanest, most power-producing burn while the exhaust’s two catalyzers help to reduce the engine’s emissions.
Honda’s engineers took a two-step approach to giving the engine an “exhaust sound to proclaim Valkyrie’s presence” and differentiate it from its Gold Wing and F6B stablemates. First, the airbox gained additional rear intake ducting because intake honk can be pleasing to the ear, too. The exhaust, not surprisingly, was tuned for sound with the goal of giving the mill a growl at lower rpm – which the ride revealed you can actually feel resonating in your body. At high rpm, the Valkyrie’s song changes to a higher pitched, throaty howl that makes the Gold Wing sound like a sewing machine, comparatively. Additionally, rapping on the Valkyrie’s throttle reveals an engine that seems to rev just a tad quicker because of the freer breathing intake and exhaust.
Although the engine and transmission are unchanged mechanically from both the Gold Wing and the F6B, the Valkyrie is just plain faster than either. Weight loss that would sound appropriate on The Biggest Loser receives the credit. The Valkyrie tips the scales at 154 lb. less than the Gold Wing and 90 lb. less than the F6B. Although the Honda reps wouldn’t admit it, some extra ponies probably come from the freer breathing intake and exhaust.
Remember the way the rider leaned forward on the Valkyrie in the video released with the bike’s announcement? Seemed overplayed, didn’t it? Well, it turns out that, when the big GL engine is at full song, you’ll find yourself leaning against the acceleration noticeably – just maybe not as much as in the video. The bike develops some thrust!
Twist the throttle to the stop, and you better be ready to shift immediately in lower gears. Thankfully, the transmission shifts slickly, with each lift of the lever resulting in positive connections between the cogs. Clutchless upshifts shorten the gap between gears and keeps the Fun-O-Meter pegged. In more mundane applications of the throttle, the fuel metering is spot on with nary a hiccup as you roll the throttle on and off through a winding section of road.
With fifth gear being an overdrive, the engine feels like its loafing at highway speeds, and the Flat-Six’s reputation for supernatural smoothness is carried on for another generation of riders to enjoy. Both the pegs and the grips stay vibration-free until above 5,000 rpm where some high-frequency buzz begins to move into the pegs. As the tach moves towards 6,000 rpm the vibes move into the grips, too. However, you’re never going to spend much time with the engine spinning this close to redline, so this won’t be an issue.
The Eye of the Beholder
In a move that is stylistically controversial, the Valkyrie’s cooling is accomplished via two side-mounted radiators in beefy side cowls. While the functional aspects of this arrangement are sound: the low pressure zones created as the cowls travel through the air actually draw the atmosphere through the radiators and carry the heat away from the rider at speed. The visual effect of these massive structures on the Valkyrie’s sides can’t be ignored. As is often the case, the people who dislike the cowlings are making the most noise, often saying that they think that the stylistic changes in the Valkyrie are an antithesis of what the original bike stood for.
The original Valkyrie had decidedly retro styling – which fit with the overall trend in cruisers and Honda’s approach to the market at the time. Well, things are a bit different, now. Honda terms its design goals for the Valkyrie as “progressive styling.” Like it or not, Big Red is moving towards a more modern esthetic – even in its cruisers. The CTX700N offers another example of this. While some may question whether the Valkyrie is a cruiser, Honda places it in the cruiser line on its website. In this context, the styling begins to make a little more sense – provided you aren’t a cruiser traditionalist who believes that the class should only look backwards in time.
Honda has stated that it is trying to appeal to a younger, more performance oriented group of riders with the Valkyrie’s updated design. Listening to riders debate the Valkyrie has revealed a love/hate dichotomy forming. Yes, the 2014 issue Valkyrie is less nakedly mechanical in its initial impression, with the eye taking in an overall brutishness in profile rather than a conglomeration of details. Honda’s reps said the designers had a raging bull in mind when they created the Valkyrie’s silhouette: massive and muscular in the front with its head down and charging while the rear tapers down to smaller but still beefy stance.
Whether that more modern aggression will sell as well as the classically styled original will be played out over the next couple years.
Carry that Weight
Thanks to the design of the Flat-Six engine, the Valkyrie carries its weight low in the chassis, making the bike feel lighter than its 750 lb. curb weight – that is unless you’re pushing it across the parking lot. Get the balanced chassis slightly above a walking pace, and it is remarkably easy to maneuver. The parking lot hustle really isn’t a problem, though the reach to the outside grip in full-lock turns is a tad long. Around town, the Valkyrie can be as docile or aggressive as you like. The choice is in your right hand.
Big, heavy bikes that hide their weight well need to have a well-sorted chassis or things can get ugly in a hurry. Whereas the Gold Wing’s and F6B’s rides are quite plush, the Valkyrie’s is taut, bordering on harsh in some situations. The good news is: the firmness kept the suspension from compressing and eating up too much ground clearance under the cornering forces. The bike’s mass helps it gobble up irregular pavement without the chassis getting upset, but occasionally, sharp-edged bumps are transmitted directly to the rider.
The Valkyrie’s steering is quite a puzzler. The performance-oriented bike in the Gold Wing line actually steers slower than its touring-oriented kin. This shouldn’t come as a surprise since the Valkyrie’s front wheel is a 19-incher while its progenitors wear 17-inch wheels. The 0.35 degree rake increase and the 0.2-inch trail increase created by the fork modifications to accommodate the big hoop likely contributed to this. Simply put, while the Valkyrie can still get it done, when it comes to charging a serpentine road, it requires more effort to do it. On the positive side, the Valkyrie is dead stable in corners, settling into its line without any fidgeting required to keep it on course.
Slowing the raging bull comes from the liberal application of its triple discs. The two 310mm front platters are gripped by a pair of four-piston calipers. The 316mm rear disc and two-piston caliper take care of the rear. The brakes are plenty strong for their challenging job of signing the checks that the engine likes to write. The Valkyrie can be hauled down from speed surprisingly quickly. While the non-adjustable levers may be a reach for some riders, the wide blades fit with what’s expected in the cruiser market. ABS is a $1,000 option, and in a surprise move for Honda, the ABS system does not utilize linked brakes.
The Human Factor
The Valkyrie’s acceleration no doubt influenced the rider triangle. Compared to the F6B, the bar is 1.3 in. further forward and 1.5 in. higher. The slight additional leverage offered by the 0.7 in. wider placement of the grips is nice, considering the steering effort. The result is a slight forward lean that helps to combat the wind blast and acceleration. Honda chose to use a one-inch diameter bar to give owners a wide variety of aftermarket bar options.
The rider’s legs are kept in a neutral position with the pegs 0.6 in. forward and 1.3 in. higher than the F6B. My 32-in. inseam had my thighs comfortably parallel to the ground, and the additional ground clearance was appreciated as the peg feelers started to grind on the pavement.
Wind protection, as you would expect from a shield-free motorcycle, is minimal. However, the protection the radiator cowlings offer the lower extremities will be nice on chilly days. The shape of the headlight nacelle does a decent job of directing the wind blast away from the rider. While on some bikes, you can feel a distinct line where clear air hits your body, the Valkyrie has more of a zone of increasing air pressure that starts just below mid-chest on my 5’11” frame. My shoulders and helmet were in clear air for turbulence-free riding. I’ve felt much more physically stressed at 80 mph on other (mostly) naked bikes.
Honda has quite a task ahead of itself with the Valkyrie. The Ghosts of Valkyries Past, in the form of cultists who want to keep it like it was, may garner attention with their howling and rending of garments, but the real challenge will be getting younger, hipper riders to take a look at this formidable machine. Does the bike offer the performance to attract riders away from a more sporting background? These questions can only be answered with time and sales figures.
Still, from where I sit, the new Valkyrie is quite a different motorcycle but one that offers much of the thrill of the classic version in a thoroughly modern wrapper. The 2014 Valkyrie is available in showrooms this week for a base price of $17,999 in Black, Blue Metallic, and Dark Red Metallic. The ABS option costs $1,000 more and comes in Black only.
2014 Honda Gold Wing Valkyrie Specs
|Engine Type||1832cc liquid-cooled horizontally opposed six-cylinder|
|Bore and Stroke||74.0mm x 71.0mm|
|Valve Train||SOHC; two valves per cylinder|
|Ignition||Computer-controlled digital with 3-D mapping|
|Front Suspension||45mm cartridge fork; 4.8 inches travel|
|Rear Suspension||Pro-Arm single-side swingarm with Pro-Link rear single shock with hydraulic spring preload; 4.1 inches travel|
|Front Brakes||Dual 310mm front discs|
|Rear Brakes||Single 316mm rear disc|
|Trail||114mm (4.5 inches)|
|Seat Height||28.8 inches|
|Fuel Capacity||6.1 gallons|
|Estimated Fuel Economy||TBD|
|Base Model Colors||Black, Dark Red Metallic, Blue Metallic|
|ABS Model Colors||Black|
|Curb Weight*||750 pounds (Valkyrie) / 754 pounds (Valkyrie ABS)|